James S. McDonnell Foundation: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment

OVERVIEW: Not to be confused with the McDonnell Family Foundation, which is considerably smaller, the James S. McDonnell Foundation dedicates millions of dollars per year to researching the human brain.

IP TAKE: McDonnell has a fairly narrow focus. When applying for a human cognition grant, avoid projects that, according to the foundation, attempt "too wide a leap in a single bound."

PROFILE: James S. McDonnell, founder of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, believed that private foundations have a major role to play in solving man’s multitude of problems. He therefore established the James S. McDonnell Foundation in 1950. Problems of interest for McDonnell included space sciences, genetics, and studies of the human mind and brain.

The McDonnell Foundation concentrates its human mind/brain grantmaking in two main areas:

  • Understanding Human Cognition supports researchers and scientists who study “how neural systems are linked to and support cognitive functions and how cognitive systems are related to an organism’s (preferably human) observable behavior.” McDonnell awards 10 to 12 Scholar Awards, a $600,000, six-year grant. The foundation has recently announced a new award, the Teachers as Learners grant, which offers $2.5 million 5-year grants for research into “motivators and causes of systematic improvements in teachers’ instructional practices.”

  • Studying Complex Systems is a highly technical grantmaking program that supports “scholarship and research directed toward the development of theoretical and mathematical tools that can be applied to the study of complex, adaptive, nonlinear systems,” as they apply to brain sciences. Currently, this programs only offering is a Postdoctoral Fellowship, of $200,000, available to PhD students who are within 18 months of finishing their graduate training.

JSMF’s grants range from $200,000 to over $2 million. Its Scholars Award is available only to researchers nominated by its confidential panel of nominators, but its other awards generally accept open applications once a year.


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